Backup defensive ends
Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije are the unquestioned starters but beyond that the defensive end position is a mess. Corey Wootton is still recovering from torn ligaments in his knee suffered in the first preseason game. His return timetable is still up in the air, although coordinator Rod Marinelli hinted yesterday that Wootton may start practicing as early as next week. Any type of setback could force him out another month or more.
Vernon Gholston was cut on Monday, leaving rookie Mario Addison as the only viable candidate to fill the fourth defensive end position. Jake Laptad and Nick Reed are long shots and they'll have to be amazing tonight to receive any consideration. If Addison can stand out, not only in pass rush but against the run as well, he'll earn himself a roster spot.
Marinelli also mentioned yesterday possibly sliding defensive tackles Amobie Okoye and Henry Melton outside – something else to pay attention to.
Standout defensive tackle
DT Matt Toeaina
The interior of the defensive line is arguably the deepest position on the team, yet only Okoye has earned a sack so far this offseason. Melton and Matt Toeaina have been solid but haven't been able to get to the quarterback. If the calf injury to Anthony Adams lingers into the regular season, those two will be the starters. It would be a good confidence builder if they could get a QB takedown or two.
Speaking of confidence, Stephen Paea is in desperate need. This year's second-round pick has been almost invisible all offseason. He'll make the roster due to his draft status but it's unlikely he'll play much early in the season. He needs a big night to get himself back on track. Marcus Harrison also has a slim shot at making the roster. If Addison looks horrible and Harrison shines, the team may slide Okoye or Melton to defensive end and keep Harrison. What goes on tonight in the defensive trenches will be crucial to how the final 53-man roster shakes out.
Fullback Eddie Williams shined early in the preseason. Yet the team chose to hardly play him at all against the Tennessee Titans last week. Instead, they slid rookie Kyle Adams, a tight end, into that role. Adams played well as a hybrid H-back, both as a pass-catcher and a lead blocker. Right now, he has a slight lead but Williams could steal back the roster spot with a strong outing tonight.
Rookie linebacker Dom DeCicco is hanging on to his roster spot by a thread. A converted safety, he's still learning the MIKE but he's shown outstanding athleticism and could be a contributor down the line. Last week, he made a series of missed reads but also came up with a handful of very nice plays. He needs to show well tonight only on defense but also on special teams, from which the majority of his playing time will come. Right now, he's the 53rd man on the team. It's make-or-break time for him tonight.
It looks like the nine secondary players are pretty much established. Cornerback: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Corey Graham and Joshua Moore. Safety: Major Wright, Chris Harris, Craig Steltz and Chris Conte. Yet the Bears will likely keep at least one corner or safety on the practice squad. This opens the door for Antareis Bryan, Ryan Jones, Winston Venable and Anthony Walters. All four have been mediocre so far. If any one of them can stand out, they might earn a place on the practice squad.
The Bears have a tough decision to make at offensive line. Beyond the five starters, the team is likely to keep T Frank Omiyale, C Chris Spencer and G Edwin Williams. Yet they could keep a fourth backup, most likely Levi Horn. Horn has been playing both right guard and right tackle so far and may earn a place on the team due to his versatility. How he performs in the large number of reps he'll get tonight will decide whether or not he's roster worthy.
At this point, it's going to be hard for the team to cut the rookie, unless he comes out and has an absolutely awful game tonight. He doesn't have much value as a special teams player but there's clearly a role for him in Mike Martz's offense. He'll get a lot of time on the field. As long as he continues to demonstrate his abilities as a pass catcher tonight – pure hands, crisp route running, great underneath work – he should be on the roster come Week 1.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.